Reduced Incidence of Abuse and Neglect


Child maltreatment, a term that encompasses both abuse and neglect, is defined as behavior toward another person, which (a) is outside the norms of conduct and (b) entails a substantial risk of causing physical or emotional harm. The behaviors included consist of actions and omissions that are intentional and ones that are unintentional. They can have severe, mild, or no immediate adverse consequences.1

This indicator, measured at the child level, can be calculated as the number of infants and toddlers (ages zero to three) with substantiated cases (see definition below) of child maltreatment, divided by the total number of infants and toddlers in a state/community.

  • 1. Christoffel, K. K., Scheidt, P. C., Agran, P. F., Kraus, J. F., McLoughlin, E., & Paulson, J. A. (1992). Standard definitions for childhood injury research: excerpts of a conference report. Pediatrics, 89(6), 1027-1034.

Between 1990 and 1994, the number of cases of child abuse or neglect that were either substantiated or indicated rose from 861,000 to 1,032,000—representing a rate of 15.2 per thousand children under age 18 in 1994. Between 1994 and 1999, the trend reversed, and the number of cases dropped to 829,000—a rate of 11.8 per thousand. Cases increased slightly between 1999 and 2001, then leveled off until 2006, although the rate stayed constant throughout that time. After a sharp drop in both rate and number of maltreated children (duplicate cases removed) between 2006 and 2007, the number and rate of maltreated children continued to decline until 2012, when it began to rise again. In 2014, there were approximately 672,000 maltreated children in the United States, a rate of 9.1 per thousand. In 2016, children three years and younger had a maltreatment rate of 15 per thousand, higher than that of all other age groups.

— Excerpted from the Child Trends DataBank

State-level estimates are provided in the 2016 Child Maltreatment Report, prepared by the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. Specifically, see tables 3-1 through 3-8 and 3-10 through 3-13. KIDS COUNT Data Center also includes state-level indicators of child abuse and neglect (see Safety and Risky Behaviors Indicators–Child Abuse and Neglect). Lastly, a state’s Child Welfare or Child Protective Services office collects information on the number of substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect for children in its state.

Population estimates are available at the community level. A state’s Child Welfare or Child Protective Services office collects information on the number of substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect. A community could work with its state agency to develop a data-sharing agreement to obtain aggregate-level data on the number of infants and toddlers in their county that had substantiated cases of child maltreatment in the last year.

Research Rationale

Child maltreatment is associated with physical injuries, delayed physical growth, and neurological damage. Child maltreatment is also associated with psychological and emotional problems, such as aggression, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In extreme cases, child abuse and neglect can lead to death. In 2014, approximately 1,546 children died as a result of abuse or neglect.

In addition, child abuse is linked to an increased risk of alcoholism, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, obesity, high-risk sexual behaviors, smoking, suicide, and certain chronic diseases later in life. Women who were victims of physical assault as children are twice as likely to be victims of physical assault as adults. Also, some evidence suggests that victims of child maltreatment may be more likely than others to engage in deviant or criminal behavior as juveniles and adults.

Child maltreatment is influenced by a number of factors, including poor knowledge of child development, substance abuse, other forms of domestic violence, and mental illness. Although maltreatment occurs in families at all economic levels, abuse, and especially neglect, are more common in families with low or extremely low incomes than in families with higher incomes.

In the national statistical system that tracks child maltreatment, children are counted as victims if an investigation by a state child welfare agency classifies their case as either “substantiated” or “indicated” child maltreatment. Substantiated cases are those in which an allegation of maltreatment or risk of maltreatment was supported or founded according to state law or policy. Indicated cases are those in which an allegation of maltreatment or risk of maltreatment could not be substantiated, but there was reason to suspect maltreatment or the risk of maltreatment.

Beginning in 2009, data for children was based on “unique” counts—that is, each victim was counted only once, even if there were multiple substantiated or indicated cases of child maltreatment for that child over the course of the year.

— Excerpted from the Child Trends DataBank